Plus Digital Media Edition hits stores

Plus Digital Media Edition -- a Windows XP add-on for digital media enthusiasts -- moves to shrink-wrap packaging and adds a couple of downloadable freebies Monday.

Plus DME, a bundle of assorted applications for managing and exploiting digital media, has been available only as a US$20 download since its release in early January. But this week, Microsoft Corp. is making it available on retail store shelves, as well.

As of Monday, some 8,000 retailers -- including giants Amazon.com, Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA, and Wal-Mart -- will begin carrying the shrink-wrapped edition for the same $20 as the download version, Microsoft representatives say.

Microsoft is also beefing up the Plus DME package. The company is announcing the availability on Monday of five new downloadable performers for Plus DME's Dancer application, which places small, videotaped figures that dance in a corner of your screen, regardless of whether you are playing music.

The original digital dancers in Plus DME were all actual amateur or professional dancers from the Seattle area. The new ones, however, aren't even flesh-and-blood beings: All are heroes of Microsoft Xbox games. The newest dancers are Arkantos from Age of Mythology, Exile from Tao Feng, Hawk from Brute Force, Jade Dragon from Tao Feng, and Master Sho-Yu from Kung Fu Chaos.

Also scheduled for availability as a free download for Plus DME on Monday is the new Portable Audio Devices PowerToy, a file transfer tool.

It is designed to make transferring music between a PC and a supported portable digital audio player a simple drag-and-drop affair. This PowerToy will support a number of popular models by Creative and SonicBlue, plus the Nike PSAPlay 64 and 128.

In addition, Microsoft announced that Dell, Gateway, and Hewlett-Packard plan to bundle Plus Digital Media Edition on some PCs.

Plus DME includes various handy utilities and novelties.

Microsoft has included skins for Windows Media Player 9, which is bundled with Windows XP.

The Plus Analog Recorder allows users to create digital copies of vinyl records or cassette tapes using automatic hiss and pop reduction and automatic track-splitting.

Also included is Plus Sleep Timer, which enables users to fall asleep to the music they choose by gradually decreasing volume over time. Plus DME also supplies the Plus CD Label Maker, which lets users create and print CD covers and labels.

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